Burlington moves forward with decades-old district heat plan

Burlington moves forward with decades-old district heat plan

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) — Steam from Burlington Electric’s McNeil power plant would heat the hospital and parts of the UVM campus, according to a plan the city is pursuing. The decades-old district energy plan would also help the Queen City achieve its climate goals.

For decades, the City of Burlington and the City Electricity Board have hoped to get the boroughs’ power proposals off the ground. Now, a stripped-down version of the plan is gaining momentum.

Built in the 1980s, the McNeil Generating Station provides about 35% of Burlington’s electricity needs. But the steam generated in the plant’s wood-fired boilers was also originally intended to be used as a heat source for parts of the city. Although several studies have gathered dust on the shelves over the years, this capacity has never been filled. But now the city is trying to do whatever it takes to reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“Could contribute to a significant reduction for the commercial sector – our analysis showed an emissions reduction of between 11% and 15% for the commercial sector in Burlington. That makes this the single largest step we could take to reduce emissions in this city,” said Burlington Electric’s Darren Springer.

The idea for the $40 million project is that there would be a network of underground pipes running directly from McNeil to UVM Medical Center. Although McNeil burns wood and releases carbon into the atmosphere, the biomass plant is still considered renewable.

But critics say it’s not truly green energy, and they question putting additional resources into the plant. “We should phase it out, not for further use. We’re trying to say that we’re going to sell waste heat to UVM – that means this plant is running for the long term. And in order to sell waste heat, it has to be running. It’s totally backwards. We should try to shut it down,” said Steve Goodkind, former director of Burlington Public Works.

But BED says McNeil is the best option right now. “If we want to continue to be 100% renewable in terms of our generation resources. You really can’t replace McNeil with today’s technology, with another renewable energy source, because they run at different times and have different characteristics,” Springer said.

Burlington District Energy, a new not-for-profit organization, was formed to fund and manage the project and is in the process of obtaining an Act 250 permit. BED says taxpayers and taxpayers will be unaffected. The debt from the project would be repaid with steam buyers’ funds, which they believe are comparable in price to natural gas, and from the purchase of district renewable energy credits.

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